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Keeping Your Presentations Within the Time Limit

November 21, 2014 / Blog presentation tips

It’s not uncommon for presentations to go beyond the time limit. Presenters always have a lot to share and they never want to leave important details unsaid.

If there’s not enough time to cover all the points, it’s easy to just extend your presentation for an extra few minutes. But while 10—or even 20—minutes may seem completely harmless, it could mean something else for your audience and the outcome of your pitch.

We all know how fast our environment moves, especially in the world of business. It’s likely that the people in your audience have very tight schedules. For some of them, the hour they allotted to hear from you is the only time they’re free. If you go beyond schedule, they’ll have to sneak out of your presentation to make their next appointment.

Meanwhile, those who’ll stay behind to hear your conclusion will constantly check their phones, anxiously waiting for you to finish.

If you want to make sure everyone is present and attentive until the last word, you need to keep your presentation within the time limit.

So now the question is, how exactly do you do it? How can you ensure that your presentations end at exactly the right time? Here are 3 simple tips that will help keep your presentations from going over the time limit:

Plan your presentation properly

Presentation Time Limit - Tip 1The secret to a well-timed presentation is proper planning. To do that, you’ll need to know how long you have to speak. This is especially crucial if you’re speaking at a conference or pitching to prospects. You can’t automatically assume that you’re free to talk for as long as you can. Always ask how much time you’ll have as soon as you’re asked to deliver a presentation.

For most business-related presentations, 30-45 minutes seem to be the standard. At a seminar, you might have up to an hour on stage. Check with your contacts or the event organizers to get the exact answer.

Once you have the information you need, you can begin planning how your presentation will play out. Apart from discussing your main points, what else do you want your audience to know? Work on a draft and list down everything you have planned. What do you want to say at the start of the presentation? Do you want to tell an anecdote? Do you want the audience to participate in a short activity? Do you have to give a live demo? Try to draw up a rough structure, identifying something for the introduction, body, and conclusion of your presentation. Once you have this outline, you can begin aiming for specifics. Be discerning during this stage. Everything that’s in your presentation should always contribute to your main takeaway.

Rehearse your presentation

Presentation Time Limit - Tip 2After planning (and subsequently preparing) your presentation, you need to rehearse everything you want to do on the day itself. Set a timer and practice every aspect of your presentation, including your PowerPoint deck and any props. Make it as close to the actual presentations as possible. Video tape your rehearsal to take note of how long each part lasts, or ask someone else to do it for you. Use this information to adjust your presentation. For example, if it looks like you’re taking too long on the introduction, go ahead and trim some of the parts out.

As always, it’s important to be discerning at this stage. If you have to cut out your favorite parts, do so. You should also allocate a few minutes for answering questions, and give yourself leeway in case your equipment malfunctions or you arrive late at the venue.

As a rule, you should leave about 10% of your time free.  If everything runs smoothly on the day of your presentation, you can just use the extra time to address a few more questions.

Adjust accordingly

Presentation Time Limit - Tip 3Now that you’ve figured out how long each part of your presentation lasts, you can use these markers to facilitate your delivery. Take note of the time as you give your presentation. You can enable  PowerPoint’s presenter view to have quick access to a timer. If you see that you’re going over the time you allotted for a specific part, adjust your presentation accordingly. For example, your introduction is only supposed to run for 5 minutes, but you’re already at 4.5 minutes and just halfway through your spiel. Maybe it would be better to cut your anecdote short, or skip the joke you were planning to tell.

Remember that flexibility is important in well-timed presentations, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t rush through your slides and start talking fast. When you’re going over the schedule, just try to condense less important parts of your presentation by giving a quick overview. In case of any extraordinary event (such as a blackout), don’t ask for extra time until you’re offered an extension.

You can keep the audience in their seats by staying within your time limit. It might seem a bit restrictive, but it’s important to value the time of your audience. Don’t miss out on great opportunities just because the clock is ticking behind you.

Featured Image: Paolo Campioni via Flickr
Image Sources: Brady/Flickr; Matthew/Flickr; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr